Getting Unstuck: The Writer's Dilemma

It happens to every writer: your words are flowing along smoothly, your characters are practically writing their own dialogue, your scenes are crackling. Then – WHAM! Everything comes to a screeching halt. Your characters turn mute, your scenes morph into tableaux, and English seems not to be your first — or even your second — language.

Your natural impulse may be to think that your ability as a writer may have flown the coop, and that your idea has dried up. But, before you panic, consider this: All writers get stuck from time to time. So, what’s happening?

3 culprits most likely at play

1. You’re simply fatigued.

Put your writing aside and take a walk – preferably in fresh air. Snack on something light and healthy. Avoid anything sugary, which causes blood sugar to spike and then drop, causing your energies to drop along with it. Take a nap. Or, on the contrary, listen to lively music. Avoid the temptation to check your email, pay bills or surf the Internet, which will only drain you more. Shifting your mindset to a physical activity, if only for a few minutes, can be the jump-start you need. Remember not to get too stressed; all first drafts are far from perfect.

2. You don’t have enough information.

You may need to do some research or interviews if you’re writing nonfiction. If you’re writing a novel, you may need to dig deeper into your characters, or setting. Instead of straining your brain to figure out what comes next, get creative. Craft a letter from one character to another, read some travel articles or history books about your setting, or try injecting a whole new character into your story just for fun. I love browsing the rich archive of TED Talks for an intriguing lecture on a culture, philosophy, or concept  that may apply to my book. Even if you just stick to some free writing, you never know what brilliant ideas may come up.

3. You’ve grown bored.

When you’re writing a book-length work, it’s natural to tire of your characters, story, or subject matter. After all, you’ve been dwelling for months on the same story elements that ideally, a reader would digest in a matter of days. The best way to get over this is to shake things up: Take things to extremes, exaggerate character traits, give ridiculous advice. In other words, have characters do what you would “never” do. You may even discover some gems worth keeping.

Whatever your problem, remember that writer’s block is a natural part of the writing process. We wish you luck. Happy Writing!


2 comments on “Getting Unstuck: The Writer’s Dilemma

  • Hi Diane! I love this article you’ve written. I especially enjoyed the points you made about hunting for more stimulating information that could jumpstart new ideas. I’ve been a writing tutor for many years, and have often recommended to my young students to take breaks or change gears, but I like the research aspect you present. I’ll be introducing that into my teachings. Thanks very much, you are a star!

  • Hi Diane, some great tips. Thanks!
    The only time I ever truly had writers block (couldn’t stay in my seat long enough to do any work, dreaded the thought of the dross I would write) was when I’d spent far too much time in critiquing groups. The voices of others were crippling. They said nice things along with the negative, but I only remembered the negative. I lost confidence and worse than that – the joy of writing. I found my way back eventually, but it took six months. So I’d add nurture your writer’s soul by listening to what you need. Join groups when you need them, withdraw when you don’t.

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